01 — the Road to WW1 pt1

In this unit

  1. Long term causes of WW1
  2. Short term causes of WW1
  3. The War itself

Questions to consider

  1. What were the main causes of WW1? Which factors seem the most important?
  2. Could the outbreak of WW1 be blamed on any one country?
A German cartoon map, 1914. Which of the European great powers do you recognise? How useful is this map in informing us about the great powers and their relations just before WW1?

Long-term sources of tension leading to WW1

During the 19th century, the European nations were engaging in their industrialisation; their economies were growing and their military technology was improving — tensions grew steadily as these nations rubbed shoulders, leading them down the path to world war:

  • By the end of the 19th century, there were five great powers in Europe: Britain, France, Austria- Hungary, Russia, and Germany
    • Italy and Turkey were not considered great powers (both were lagging behind the great powers industrially, and neither held many overseas colonies), but were still involved in great power politics
  • The birth of Germany in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian War exacerbated simmering tensions in Europe, and put the other great powers on edge; suddenly, with the signing of one treaty (the Treaty of Frankfurt), came the birth of one of most centralised, industrialised, and militarily formidable nations in the world: Germany. This nation would dynamically try to expand her power and influence in the coming decades
  • Colonial rivalry → many of the great powers built overseas empires through conquest; as they industrialised they wanted markets for their goods, as well as raw materials. The Scramble for Africa was the source of much tension between the great powers, as the great powers competed for resources and national glory
  • Militarism and the arms race → as the great powers built up their empires, nationalism was stirred up among their citizens. This went hand-in-hand with a rise in militarism (the belief that one’s country should pursue national glory, which should be won through war), further exacerbating tensions in Europe. The militaristic atmosphere in Europe encouraged many of the great powers to build up their militaries; this created an arms race, as the great powers engaged in military one-upmanship (the Anglo-German naval rivalry was particularly serious), none of them willing to disarm for fear of lagging behind. This not only raised mutual suspicion and tensions, but raised the stakes in the event of war, which now promised to be very destructive.

British cartoon, date unknown. What is the focus of nationalism according to the cartoonist? What is the cartoonist’s opinion of nationalism? Would this have been the majority opinion?

The size of the armies of the European great powers, 1914

British cartoon, 1908. What effect would ‘the game’ have on international relations?

  • Balkan troubles → the Balkans were a flashpoint that produced much tension, and had many European leaders worried. As the Turkish Empire weakened in the Balkans, nationalism grew, while at the same time Austria-Hungary and Russia both looked hungrily at the Balkans for expansion. Tensions had been simmering for decades as they manoeuvred to get the upper hand while the Balkan nations jostled each other, and Bismarck, leader of Germany, commented in 1881, “One day the great European war will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.” He was right.
    • Nationalism in the Balkans was particularly worrying to Austria-Hungary because of the situation of the Slavs: as a multinational empire, Austria-Hungary ruled over many different types of people, and one group, the Slavs, were demanding national self-determination. Serbia, one of the stronger Balkan nations, was particularly vocal about this issue (Greater Serbia), creating serious tension between herself and Austria-Hungary
  • ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ → out of the many general tensions and rivalries between the great powers from the 1870s to 1910s, a handful stood out, eventually creating a Europe dominated by two armed camps, two rival alliance systems:
France and GermanyFrance wanted to recover Alsace-Lorraine, wanted revenge on Germany for FP War defeat. Germany afraid of France, and so… …Germany formed the Triple Alliance (1882) with AH and Italy to isolate France. Members were obligated to help each other if war broke out 
Russia and Austria-HungaryAustria-Hungary and Russia both hungry for Balkans land; Russia wanted access to warm water port. And so… …Russia supported Serbia against Austria-Hungary (pan-Slavism and Greater Serbia), and allied herself with France to counter Germany
Italy and FranceItaly bitter that France took Tunisia. And so… …Italy joined the Triple Alliance to oppose France, making common cause with Germany
Britain and GermanyFierce colonial and naval  rivalry → naval arms race; and so… …Britain left her splendid isolation, cooperated with France and Russia against Germany, AH and Italy. Members were obligated to help each other if war broke out.

A Russian and a British cartoon, 1910s. How is the Kaiser (Emperor of Germany) portrayed in these sources? How useful are these two sources in telling us about relations between Germany, France, Britain, and Russia in the first decade of the 20th century? How would a general audience in Germany react to these two sources?

Continue to Part 2

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